Ti and The Lost Dog
Copyright © 2009
by Richard S. Platz, All
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Tangle Blue and Marshy Lakes Backpack
Trinity Alps Wilderness
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
September 8-12, 2008
Photos by the
Author and Barbara Lane Except Where Noted
"She's real friendly and just gave birth to pups."
No damned signs.
Someone was determined to keep Tangle Blue Lake
a big secret. Make it disappear from the face of the earth.
Every road and trail sign had been stolen or defaced beyond
legibility. Even the plastic paddle markers along the gravel
logging roads had been sawed off at ground level.
The systematic eradication of all signs pointing
to Tangle Blue Lake would have pleased Shih Huang Ti, the self-proclaimed
First Emperor of China. Shih Huang Ti decreed that all books
predating him should be burned. History was to begin with him.
That was in 213 B.C., but some ideas stay with us.
Curiously, this same Shih Huang Ti was also the
emperor to first ordain the construction of the Great Wall.
Writer Jorge Luis Borges was "inexplicably pleased and,
at the same time, disturbed" by the origin of these two
vast undertakings in the same man. I can understand how he felt.
We saw no sign of a wall going up.
Fortunately, Barbara and I had been to Tangle
Blue Lake together once before. A few years later I had returned
in the company of Mr. Popper and a mutual friend named "Bob."
My backpack with the Bobs. So I remembered that the turnoff
for the lake was a sharp left just after the first hairpin switchback
crossing Scott Mountain Creek as Highway 3 began its serpentine
climb over the mountain. The gravel road was utterly unmarked
and unremarkable. On instinct we stayed left at every road junction
until we found ourselves high on the mountainside overlooking
Tangle Blue Creek.
We arrived at a wide place in the road just as
a small sports car was wheeling around to leave. I rolled open
the window and gazed down on a young woman with a wide Carmen
"Is this the trailhead to Tangle Blue Lake?"
She assured me that it was, gesturing to a brand
new Forest Service kiosk that had not yet been chain-sawed down
and burned. The locked gate lay just around the bend, she told
us. She had run up to the lake and back in less than two hours.
"Funny thing, though," she added, "there's a
tent up there at the lake and no one around. And someone left
a bathing suit hanging from a bush about half-way up. Weird."
Thrilled that we had navigated to the right place,
we took little notice of her soon-to-be-relevant observations.
I thanked her and wished her a pleasant trip out.
"Have a nice day," she smiled and vanished
up the dusty road.
We were alone. There were no other cars. To the
kiosk a fresh map was screwed beneath a sheet of Plexiglas.
The map confirmed that we were parked at the Tangle Blue Lake
trailhead (N 41 13' 39.4", W 122 42' 26.2", 4600 feet).
That's the trouble with just destroying the signs. New ones
go up. Outsiders can still find their way in. The locals were
going to have to get started on that wall.
No fire restrictions were posted. The Trinity
Alps Wilderness had miraculously reopened after an entire summer
of hellish conflagration. We feared the fires would burn until
Autumn rains began. But motoring north on Highway 3 from Weaverville,
we had passed beneath but a single high plume of yellow-gray
smoke drifting eastward from a fire still burning at Caribou
Lakes. It smudged the clear blue sky. Otherwise, the fires were
It was already dinner time. We ate sandwiches
from a deli in Weaverville before setting up camp. Then we explored
the parking area and began preparing our backpacks. That evening
we fell asleep in the van around 9:00 o'clock as darkness closed
Less than an hour later, headlights woke us.
A Suburu Forester had pulled into the parking lot. I watched
two figures get out, sort through and strap on small daypacks,
then head up the trail by the ghostly light of headlamps. Odd.
Why would anyone be setting out in total darkness? And without
sleeping bags? Ten minutes later they returned, chirped open
their car, added something to their packs, then headed out again.
First thing Monday morning we sniffed around
the Suburu, peering through the tinted windows for any sign
of what madness might cause two hikers to venture up the rugged
trail in pitch blackness without sleeping bags. The
evidence was not in the vehicle, but on a new sheet of paper
thumb-tacked to the kiosk. The posting advertised for a Lost
Dog named "Molly." Molly was very friendly and had
recently had pups. The page contained a color photograph and
contact telephone numbers. "She's white with brown spots,"
it told us.
"Aha," I said. "Didn't that girl
in the car see an abandoned tent up at the lake?"
Barbara nodded. "And something about clothes
hanging from a bush."
"That's where they were headed. To find their
It made sense. Their sleeping gear was already
up at the tent. They had come down to print and post the sign
and returned in the dark in case the dog came back. Not madness
at all. Just extreme behavior. But a lost dog can do that to
you. We would likely encounter them again along the way.
Tangle Blue Lake is situated on the Craggy Peak
Pluton. Mesozoic magma bubbled up through an ultramafic ophiolite,
which had itself been raised up from its deep ocean crypt as
improbably as Lazarus. Beneath the surface the silicate magma
hardened into granite as it jostled for position. The resulting
interaction between the basement rock and the granitic intrusion,
now exposed by an epoch of uplift, glaciation, and erosion,
left a roughly circular granitic pluton, perhaps twelve miles
in diameter. From the northeast the broad, rectangular, ultramafic
thrust block of Scott Mountain penetrates to the pluton's center,
like an hour hand pointing toward two o'clock. From the south
another narrow thorn of ultramafic rock pierces the circle by
some incomprehensible cataclysm. Just beyond the point of the
thorn, in the eroding granite pluton, lies Tangle Blue Lake.
Our trail would cross and recross both geological domains.
The wilderness lying between Tangle Blue Lake
and Scott Mountain summit to the northeast is laced with old
mining roads, most of which have been abandoned. A few are still
maintained. The one into Camp Unalayee is marked "Private"
on the wilderness map. Some wilderness.
began our trek on a road that climbed southwest, bound for the
Grand National Mine in about three miles and 1500 feet higher.
We would not follow it that far. A steel pipe gate at the trailhead
blocked unauthorized vehicular traffic. The wide road quickly
dropped to a bridge crossing high above the turbulent waters
of Tangle Blue Creek. Our trail would follow the creek all the
way to our destination, crossing and recrossing it twice more
at fords beyond the end of an old spur road that was no longer
maintained. Fishermen and local ne'r-do-wells used to be able
to drive their 4-wheelers to the end of that road and tote their
six packs and watermelons the last half-mile to the lake. Now
they have to hike more than three miles and climb an extra 800
feet. They're mad as hell about it. Mad enough to deface every
damned Forest Service sign along the path.
Our trail followed the Grand National Mine road
as it climbed steeply above the creek, arcing around the nippled
pyramid of a small granite peak. After the road crossed the
wilderness boundary about half-way to the lake, we came to a
right-hand fork blocked by another steel gate. This was an old
trailhead. The junction signs had been torn down or defaced.
took the fork to follow an abandoned and overgrown spur road
through tall mixed-conifer forest just above the creek bank.
Gigantic incense cedar and Douglas fir towered over the trail.
This was a beautiful, shady stretch with several good campsites
along the creek. In a half mile the trail dropped into a marshy
area with patches of scrub alder. A few small Darlingtonia fens
confirmed the ultramafic nature of the soil. In a narrow willow
thicket we saw a woman's bathing suit hung on a branch low to
the ground. Its scent was no doubt intended as a beacon to the
lost Molly, assuring her that this was the right way home.
Soon we arrived at our first
ford of Tangle Blue Creek. The water was low and we crossed
easily on the rocks. Any trace of a road crossing had been erased
by flood waters. On the other side, the trail switch-backed
up a dry
bench before continuing along another abandoned road high above
the water. Maybe it was the same road. A colorful stew of granite,
peridotite, gabbro, and serpentine rocks and boulders, weathered
to the roundness of beach balls, lined the broad creek channel
in a melange of alluvial deposits and glacial till brought down
from the competing bedrock formations above.
In a half mile we arrived at a wide washout and
dropped down to a substantial creek flowing down from the Marshy
Lakes to join Tangle Blue Creek. Again we crossed easily on
the rocks. The trail resumed the road, which began to climb
away from the creek for another quarter mile. On the left a
broad, dry meadow appeared, sloping down to Tangle Blue Creek.
Abruptly we came upon our first legible trail
sign. Screwed high to the rough, ruddy bark of an ancient incense
cedar, old and worn, gnawed across the top, and streaked with
moss, the sign looked like it had hung there since before the
wilderness was created. Perhaps since the time of Shih Huang
Ti. We had penetrated the perimeter of the kingdom. We were
inside the wall. Across the top we could make out the words,
"Tangle Blue Tr 8W01." An arrow pointed left to Tangle
Blue Lake down a narrow, matted path through the amber meadow
grass. Straight ahead, the sign informed us, the road continued
on to Marshy Lakes.
left the road and dropped through the dry, brittle grass to
again ford Tangle Blue Creek at Messner Cabin. No sign of the
original cabin timbers remained. Just the remnants of an old
stove, some boards, and junk. A historical site. As we paused
in the shade of the tall, stout trees, with the creek murmuring
below and the meadow spread out invitingly on the other side,
we wondered what it might have been like to spend a season here.
Or an entire year. Or maybe a lifetime. Would such a life have
mattered any less than the raucous, wired, city hubbub does
now for most of the planet's nearly seven billion souls?
From Messner cabin we embarked on a steep, three-quarter-mile
climb through the forest. Near the top, almost four hundred
feet above, the trail threaded roughly through the willow and
alder thickets lining the outflow from Tangle Blue Lake. We
ascended out of the domain of ruddy, ultramafic soils to the
clean white granite cliffs and outcroppings embracing the lake.
This last exhausting stretch has always seemed longer than it
a saddle in a clearing we arrived at the lake's north shore.
Forest Service rock-and-mortar stoves had been built here years
ago at three campsites perhaps a hundred feet apart along the
level bench above the lake. When I last hiked here with the
Bobs, we had spread out, setting up our tents at each of the
three campsites for privacy. Late that first evening, a young
woman had arrived with her little girl, and we told her the
campground was full, sending her on a muddy slog to the far
end of the lake. I still cringe at this selfish affront to decency.
At the campsite on the left two young men milled
about a small domed tent. The other two spots were vacant. We
dropped our backpacks at the middle site, just above the lake's
outflow. I wandered over amiably.
"Hello," I said. "You the fellows
lost your dog?"
The younger of the two stepped forward. "I
lost a dog." He looked to be in his middle to late twenties,
clean-cut, slight of build, and wiry. "Have you seener?"
"No. Saw your sign at the trailhead."
I explained that we were camped in the van when they passed
through in the dark the night before. "We saw you hiking
in by headlamp. Must've been tough."
"Not too bad. I'm Mike." He stuck out
his hand and we shook. "An'that's my brother-in-law,"
he added, pointing to the other man, who nodded. Mike explained
that he and his wife had driven over from Redding on Saturday
and hiked in with their two kids to spend the night. Molly was
with them. Sometime Sunday Molly had lit out barking after some
quail into the rocks along the rough northwest shore, where
ragged blocks of granite tumble into the water. "We waited,
but she never came back. Called after her. Set out in that direction
calling all the way over into the next valley, but she must've
got lost or hurt."
"She'd just given birth to pups, so she
was actin' kinda strange." He shook his head. "Kids
were heartbroken, havin' t'hike out without her."
"Well, we're going to be here at least two
days," I said. "We'll keep an eye out for her."
"Preciate that." He told me that
he and his brother-in-law were just getting ready to pack up
and hike out so they could post signs at other trailheads where
Molly might venture out. Mike planned to come back with his
wife the following day, if she could get off work. "She's
I assumed he meant the dog, and nodded. Theirs
seemed to be the best campsite, so I asked, "Do you mind
if we take your spot when you leave?"
"No, not at all. If Molly sees you here,
she's bound t'stick around til we get back."
So while they took down their tent and packed
up, we waited, biding our time eating lunch and nosing around.
We broke out our new SteriPen. For years we had pumped water
through a mechanical filter to eliminate giardia and other waterborne
pathogens. This trip, in order to save a few ounces, we had
brought along a new-fangled device advertised to accomplish
the same results by swirling a ultraviolet light stick through
a quart bottle of water. It was supposed to be even more effective.
But it didn't seem to work right. The light kept going off before
the 90 seconds required for safe purification. We read and reread
the instructions, to little avail. It took us three or four
attempts to purify a single quart of water.
"How're we gonna know if it's actually working?"
Barbara wanted to know, sipping and handing me the bottle.
I drank deeply and passed it back. "I guess
we'll find out soon enough."
Mike and his brother-in-law departed, we hauled our backpacks
over to their campsite (N 41 12' 28.5", W 122 44' 37.2",
5775 feet). It was a splendid spot in a line of white firs along
a bench above the water, broad, open, flat, and a little apart
from the other two campsites. It offered a five-star view of
the lake. A nice grassy beach lay below, hidden by the slope.
A ring of rock against one side of the crumbling stone stove
formed a fine fire pit.
We set up our tent and sat by the water for a
long time. An osprey perched on a branch nearby helped us keep
vigil over the sparkling water. During our stay at Tangle Blue
Lake we would see osprey, a red-tailed hawk, juncos, peeping
white- and red-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, a flicker, and
at night, great horned owl. A regular birding hot spot. It
was a rare treat to have the popular lake all to ourselves.
Tuesday morning Barbara and I sat beside the
calm water with our tea and mocha, enjoying the solitude. I
considered the origin of the name "Tangle Blue", which
has been variously described, mostly having to do with a drunken
miner waking up with a hangover and tangled feet. I found no
poetry in these historical accounts. Myself, I preferred to
envision a Chinese monk of no particular sect, perhaps a distant
descendant of Shih Huang Ti on a pilgrimage north from the Taoist
temple in Weaverville, sitting quietly beside the still lake
waters for countless days and awakening one morning from a dream
in which a whispered haiku revealed the lake's true name. The
full haiku might have elegantly explained the purpose and intent
of the human condition, but the balance was forgotten when the
simple monk turned his full attention to morning ablutions.
Only "Tangle Blue" survived.
As we sat in silence, rocks tumbled sporadically
down the steep slope beyond the trees to our right, across the
outlet stream. Whatever was knocking them down sounded big.
I wondered aloud if it might be a bear. Barbara thought it might
be a cow. She had heard a cow bellowing earlier as we lay in
the tent. Or maybe a horse. We meditated on the alternatives.
Just when we thought we might have imagined it, another rock
would clatter down the talus slope.
Suddenly Barbara thought she heard a forlorn
bark. "Molly?" she asked. She jumped up and called
I joined the call, and after several tries we
were answered with a series of sharp barks that trailed into
a painful yip. I called again, and again was met with barking.
They seemed to be coming from behind us. We scrambled up the
bank to the meadow, calling and listening for the direction
of the barks, then I ran up the slope and plunged into the trees
in pursuit. After maybe a dozen iterations of call and response,
the barking ceased. I envisioned an exhausted dog, who had spent
her last breaths calling for help, now lying still and spent
in the underbrush. Perhaps lifeless. With urgency and trepidation,
I continued to call "Molly" as I pressed on up the
slope, scanning each clearing, all the way to the ridge crest,
but found nothing.
We never heard another bark. Lost, half delirious,
and recognizing that we were not her people, she had apparently
dropped down the far slope cross-country in the general direction
of the trailhead. At least she seemed to be heading the right
A malaise settled over us as we attempted to
dayhike around the lake, always hoping to see or hear Molly.
We tried the lower route around the east side through the thick
shoreline brush, but the trail became swampy. The mud was deep
enough to suck off our boots. We turned back and tried a route
higher up the eastern slope, but turned back again when the
path veered left over a high pass in the general direction of
Eagle Creek. So we backtracked through our camp and found a
fisherman's trail along the rocky west shore.
a cold night in October thirteen years earlier we had camped
at the far, southern end of the lake on a granite outcropping
above a broad wet meadow. A photo still hangs from our refrigerator.
We had spent but a single night, because on the second day I
came down with a sore throat, fever, and chills. We found our
old campsite, which, like the intervening years, had become
overgrown and little used.
On our way back to camp we hiked past a taciturn
young couple, newly-arrived, setting up a tent in the trees
a little back from the west shore of the lake. Later we saw
the woman hiking out by herself. We never saw him again.
When we got back to our camp, we discovered that
another lone backpacker had arrived and set up his tent at the
crumbling stove furthest from us, above the outlet stream gorge.
Popular place. Before long we found him sitting just below our
camp watching the lake. He was middle-aged, short, trim, and
unaccountably dapper for the primitive setting, like maybe he
planned on filming an L. L. Bean commercial. His name was Bob.
That made my third "Bob" at Tangle Blue. Bob seemed
intent on chatting. Hiking all alone will do that to you. He
had seen the sign about Molly, but had not heard or seen the
dog. We described our encounter that morning. Slowly he began
acquainting us with previous excursions he had undertaken, near
and far. Silence was no longer golden. After a while, we climbed
back up to start a fire and cook dinner. Bob left us alone.
Wednesday morning we awoke to the sound of voices.
Someone had hiked in during the night and in the darkness set
up a domed tent at the middle campsite. I recognized Mike and
walked over to see how the search for Molly was going. He introduced
his wife, Chere, who was shorter than he, but appeared more
athletic. Molly's owners planned to spend the week searching
for her. Barbara joined me and we told them about our encounter
the previous morning, our calling "Molly," and the
barking responses. No one was quite sure what it meant, and
why she had not come to us. But they were certain it had been
Molly. We exchanged names and telephone numbers, and they set
off calling after their lost dog.
While we were taking down our tent, Bob came
by to tell us he was going to spend the day hiking up to Marshy
Lakes and the Pacific Crest Trail, then return to Tangle Blue
Lake. That was fine with us. Upper Marshy Lake was our destination,
too, but we planned to spend the next two nights there. Hopefully
We descended the trail to Messner Cabin and crossed
Tangle Blue Creek, then left the path to follow a faint trace
through the meadow grass to intercept the road a quarter mile
above the trail junction. We turned left to climb the road west
toward Big Marshy Lake 900 feet above us. Soon the road switched-back
eastward, and there we found another ancient, broken sign propped
against the foot of a massive Douglas fir and half buried in
the duff. Some of the words were legible, "Tangle Blue
Lake" and "Marshy Lakes," but the directions
and distances were indecipherable. Nailed to the rough bark
was a newer sign that simply read, "Trail," with an
arrow pointing straight ahead.
continued westward on the trail through a mature mixed-conifer
forest, then climbed northwest up the steep slope to emerge
by a small tarn at the edge of a broad, open valley. We had
crossed over into a different geological provence, an ophiolite,
a landscape of rusted rock and open grassland. The nutrient-poor
ultramafic soil supported a thinner forest dominated by towering
pines, white firs, and incense cedar. Our trail ended at a graded
road, unsigned, a taxing 500 feet above Messner Cabin.
Across the valley to the north, unseen in a canyon
on the forested slopes of Scott Mountain, would be Mosquito
Lake and Camp Unalayee, a private inholding supporting a wilderness
youth summer camp. During the summer, these roads would be crawling
with children and their young adult counselors. Fortunately
it was already past Labor Day and the camp was closed. Some
of the roads in this valley were still maintained to access
the camp and other residual private holdings.
We followed the road west as it climbed gently
above the southern flank of the unnamed creek that we assumed
was flowing out of the Marshy Lakes. A sign broken on the ground
advised us to leave the road to follow a path through a willow
swale to Little Marshy Lake. We took the path, thus repeating
the same mistake the Bobs and I had made on my last visit.
Marshy Lake is another private inholding within the wilderness.
The shallow pond sits in a lush meadow at the foot of a red-rock
cliff. A spur road enters the parcel near an elaborately decorated
outhouse, a fire pit with benches, stone paths, a bridge, and
a bizarre grave marker commemorating a "Moon Gazer Trailor,"
rest in peace. The owner was apparently a hold-out hippie from
We stopped for lunch. Afterward, I explored the
lake's marshy north shore. In the woods at the west end I located
the inlet stream flowing down the 200-foot cliff from Big Marshy
Lake. Beside it was the route where the Bobs and I had ascended
to the upper lake. This was not your Forest Service maintained
and approved trail, but a well-worn scramble up the loose soil
and red rock along the right-hand bank of the tumbling creek
that linked the two lakes. I remembered the climb as exhausting.
It would be even more harrowing with a 45-pound backpack.
I showed the shortcut to Barbara, and she was
good with it. We took it slow, pausing along the way to catch
our breath and stretch our calves. At the top we crossed the
shallow stream on slickrock and arrived at a primo, secluded
campsite on a wooded hill above the outlet stream.
Big Marshy Lake lay out before us, blue and sparkling
in its rusty bowl hewn into bedrock from the earth's mantle.
Clouds of willows and azaleas and other brush blanketed the
water's edge, giving way to manzanita higher up. Sparse, open
timber climbed the mountainside. The rock exposed along the
shore and in the cliff face rising above us was rough and rounded,
weathered a rusty beige, and in places cross-hatched with deep
striations like the magnified head of a rasp. A few rocks, broken
open, revealed the greenish-black face of peridotite. Below
our camp a massive boulder head sloped gently into the water,
offering a splendid place to swim or sit and meditate. Along
the moist path crossing the outlet, hundreds of tiny frogs hopped
and crawled like a living skin.
campsite had a large stone fire pit below a meticulously built
rock wind screen. A broad, flat clearing would easily accommodate
our tent. The dense growth of trees along the outlet stream
offered shade and a place to hang our food and hammocks. I did
not waste a lot of time scouting for a better camp in that steep
and rocky landscape. We set up camp there (N 41 13' 17.6",
W 122 45' 45.6", 6300 feet).
As Barbara prepared dinner, Bob found us. He
reported on his dayhike up to the Pacific Crest Trail, which
traced the mountainside unseen to our north just below the Scott
Mountain crest. Carrying only his small daypack, he had followed
the road past Little Marshy on his way in, missing the two lakes
entirely, then climbed the roads to the PCT. He had cross-countried
blindly down Scott Mountain to our lake. Like us, he had neither
seen nor heard Molly. We told him about the steep "shortcut"
trail down to Little Marshy, and he headed off in that direction.
dinner we found a use trail up the open cliff face above our
camp. From a clearing we could gaze down on Little Marshy Lake
in its verdant meadow. In the distance stood a gray and white
pyramid of the Craggy Peak Batholith, reminding us that Tangle
Blue Lake lay just on the other side of the broad valley. On
this side we would find no granite.
That evening, two backpackers arrived and set
up camp near a meadow far across from us on the northwest corner
of the lake. Mere specks, they disappeared into the trees, kept
to themselves, and could not be heard. In the morning they were
gone. Perhaps they were on one of those popular forced pilgrimages
along the PCT, trying to do 25 miles a day and missing everything.
It feltlike we had the lake
to ourselves. From the rock head at water's edge we watched
as darkness engulfed the lake until the bats and owls came out,
then retired to our tent.
morning we dayhiked over the manzanita-covered mounds and swales
at our end of the lake to the shallow north shore. There we
intercepted a spur trail leading out to the wide valley at the
foot of Scott Mountain. The valley floor was open and stubbled
with dry, amber grass, through which a well-worn trail of rusty
beige dust trended east-west. No trail sign was posted where
the spur met the main trail. To the west, the trail would rise
to a saddle, cross the Pacific Crest Trail, then drop down to
East Boulder Lake. The PCT itself remained
high on this side of the forested ridge to avoid the
myriad popular lakes that bejeweled the north slope of the Trinity
Alps. Why they did that, I could never understand.
took the East Boulder Trail east, away from the lake, in search
of a more gentle link to the road we had come in on below Little
Marshy Lake. The trail soon crossed a stream, a tributary of
what we were now calling Marshy Lakes Creek, where it became
a graded road, probably connecting to the network of mining
roads still maintained for access to Camp Unalayee and Little
Marshy from the Scott Mountain Summit. At the summit the road
paralleled the PCT for nearly two miles as it descended into
this valley. If we had not left the road to follow the trail
sign to Little Marshy Lake, we would have ended up here. This
was the official access to Big Marshy Lake, and along it we
Near where the road began its steep drop toward
Little Marshy Lake, we saw a structure in the woods at the end
of a driveway to the north. It looked to be another private
inholding. Curiosity got the best of us, so we walked over to
examine it. It turned out to be a small, newly-constructed cabin
with a covered porch. To the locked front
door was attached a Pacific Crest Trail emblem. Beside the cabin
was a picnic table and an elaborate stone grill. Uphill in the
trees stood a small outhouse. The cabin appeared to be closed
down for the winter already, although the outhouse was still
ate lunch and bided our time, and I wondered about the tidy
little structure. If it was intended to be a shelter along the
PCT, why was it locked? And if not, who had built it within
the boundaries of the wilderness? And why? Months later I would
learn in a telephone call to the Weaverville Ranger District
that this was all privately held land. Four hundred contiguous
acres. A doughnut hole in the wilderness. One landholder. Camp
Unalayee. Its empire encompassed Mosquito Lake, Little Marshy
Lake, and all the province in between. This was not a
Forest Service shelter.
"Then why is there a Pacific Crest Trail
sign on the door," I would ask.
"I guess I better go up there and talk to
them about that," the ranger would reply.
When we got back to our
lake, I swam in the deep water from the rocky outcrop below
our tent. I could not coax Barbara to join me, but later we
hiked back to the north shore and swam where the shallower water
was warmer. We enjoyed the pleasant sunshine on our last full
day in the wilderness. We saw swallows, nuthatches, and chickadees,
and that night heard a great-horned owl nearby.
Friday we descended 1700 feet along a maze of
old rocky roads and trails portaging between road segments,
mostly unmarked, some with signs broken on the ground or missing
or damaged, down the steep road past Little Marshy, down the
steeper trail to Messner's Meadow, then down the rocky road
and trail following Tangle Blue Creek, easily crossing the water
several times, to the last campsite in the tall forest before
the end of the wilderness. There we stopped to eat the rest
of our food by the creek in a fen of five-fingered ferns.
Then we followed the final steep rocky road down
to the trailhead. Pounding down an endless road in the bright
sun under the weight of a backpack gives you plenty of time
to think. Usually I try to tune my mind to my breathing, the
mechanics of walking, the rhythm and rotation of muscle, sinew,
and bone, the balancing of the world beneath my feet, but that
day I thought about the road itself. I began to suspect that
the various segments were but a single road that once ran all
the way from the Scott Mountain Summit to the bluff overlooking
Tangle Blue Creek, where we had parked the van. Like the Great
Wall Shih Huang Ti had ordained, its random segments, built
over an incomprehensible span of time and space, could never
be confirmed as complete by any single individual. Kafka told
us that. But a wall with gaps is functionally without purpose.
As is a road that is not continuous.
Back at the van I sat for a long time in a lawn
chair in the shade in my underwear trying to cool down. As we
drove away, the sign advertising for Molly still hung from the
kiosk like an overdue bill.
On Wednesday, five days after returning home,
the telephone rang late in the afternoon. I let the answering
machine screen my calls. A voice began, "Hey, Barbara and
Rick. This is Michael. I'm the guy that lost his dog backpacking
up there with you guys. I just wanted to let you know we found
her, seven days later--"
I snatched up the telephone. "Hello? How
is she? Where was she?"
"Up at the lookout on Bolivar Mountain,"
he said. Molly had lost ten pounds and most of her hair, her
feet and body were cut up, and the sun had bleached out most
of her brown spots. But otherwise she was fine. Michael described
how they had stayed at Tangle Blue Lake through the weekend
before returning home to Redding. On Sunday he received a telephone
call from a woman who had been four-wheeling on a trail up to
the lookout on top of Bolivar Mountain above the Scott Valley
when she found Molly wandering along the trail, miles from where
she had set off in chase of quail. The woman took the dog up
to the ranger at the lookout and asked, "Is this your dog?"
"Can I leave her here with you?"
When she motored back down to Callahan, she saw
a poster Michael had put up at the store and called him. She
and a friend brought the dog all the way to Redding, where Molly
was reunited with her family and her pups.
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